[By Joel McCarthy]
Has someone ever spoiled a movie for you? Maybe some jerk at a bus stop blabbed about the ending of The Sixth Sense. Maybe an inconsiderate coworker just couldn’t resist telling you all about Kaiser Söze in The Usual Suspects. Whatever the case, nobody likes a spoiler, and if you were anything like director Alfred Hitchcock, they were to be avoided at all costs.
This is why if you showed up late to a theater to see Psycho in June of 1960, you’d be politely asked to leave. No excuses, no debate, no ticket. Hitchcock demanded perfection, not only from his cast, but from his audience. That’s why he created specific criteria for watching Psycho, a stunt no other director had ever attempted, let alone fathomed. Paramount Studios called it “a special presentation policy,” and it created unprecedented film buzz.
The release of Psycho is a paradigm of ingenious public strategy, one that allowed audiences to enjoy a film on a whole new level. Roger Ebert once said that Psycho was “the most shocking film its original audience members had ever seen,” which is exactly what Hitchcock intended.
“Don’t reveal the surprise!” was a focal point for ads. Critics were denied access to pre-screenings. Hitchcock even hired uniformed police officers to stand outside the theater on premier night to enforce audience punctuality. A recording of his voice through loudspeaker decreed, “We won’t allow you to cheat yourself!”
Hitchcock wasn’t just directing a film; he was directing an entire audience, and it was some pretty groundbreaking PR for the time. He once told fellow director François Truffaut, “You might say I was playing them… like an organ,” and it worked. Psycho remains Hitchcock’s biggest hit.
So the next time some motor mouth tries to ruin a movie for you, just tell them the ghost of Alfred Hitchcock might be out there listening, puffing on his cigar and sharpening a butcher knife. Nobody likes spoilers.
(Photo by estivillml via iStock)